I have read a book. By all accounts, it was a bad book (horrible, inconceivably horrible) riddled with plot holes the size of Dalek battle fleet. That is not my problem (48% of problem). My problem is that the readers of this novel are told to believe that the heroine (Sara) is an independent woman, and that is why she acts like a complete moron when faced with danger. This annoys me, not so much because it ruined the novel (you can’t really make it worse than the author did), but because I have come to notice a trend in many of the fantasy novels that I have read lately.*
Strong Heroine = Idiot
In many of the books I have read lately** (or tried valiantly to read***) I have found myself yelling at the heroine because she acts like little more than the blonde chick in horror movies (Yes, by all means, go into the creepy house. The world would be better off without your DNA clogging the system). Cast as independent/strong, the heroines in these novels ignore all advice given by anyone who has more knowledge then them (especially if they are male), leave safety without telling anyone just to prove they are not controlled by anyone, and/or refuse help from the people around them. And because they do this they end up alone, near death, and in situations in which they need to be rescued.
This really annoys me. Not that they need to be rescued, because if I ever end up tied to an alter and about to become the vessel in which the reincarnation of the next God of Death and All Things Evil uses to walk around our nice little planet—I want to be rescued, and preferably before I am sporting any cool new scars. What annoys me is that this seems to be the way that some fantasy authors choose to portray strong women: loners, who shun good advice and refuse all help given to them. That is not the kind of women I admire.
In Blood, Body and Mind by Kathi S. Barton (the inconceivably horrible book mentioned earlier) we find Sara (a being of incredible power, though the narrator doesn’t seem to want to tell us this before the very clichéd court scene where she just happens to mention it) living by her wits (what little there is of them), and running from the law. Hi-jinks ensue in which she rescues our “hero” and clichéd romance plot ensues. After taken to said Hero’s house to recuperate from being shot, and after being told that she is in major danger and that her arch enemy knows where she is now…she literally runs away to live in a van down by a river. Every attempt at helping her is met with a long rant (either to some other character or in her head) about how she doesn’t need anyone and that she can take care of herself….then she is promptly captured and thrown in some type of dungeon. Other stuff happens, but most of it is like a soap opera on cliché steroids. Heroine and arch enemy trade (poorly written) quips and (eventually, like three days later eventually) he is killed.
Nowhere in this book does she actively seek help, or even graciously accept it. Her refusal of a safe house lands several people in danger. Even though she had several people (or vampires) willing to offer advice she ignores every one of them. How does any of this make her strong? Aside from the ridiculously huge amount of magic she has (really? Such a fantasy cop-out), there is nothing admirable about her. Her attempts at independence simply make her alone and when she is “strong” it is only because she seems to have unlimited power, not because she has any self-discipline. She alienates herself from the world, and in return she has no one to help her, except a fairy-god-mother character that simply uses her to kill the evil fairy king.
Compare that novel with something like Tamora Pierce’s Tortall novels (which I love). In the Tortall universe you have strong women (both magically and non-magically) who fight, not by themselves (at least not exclusively) but with companions and friends. These women kick ass (pardon my French, but they do) but seem to realize that acting at the exclusion of everyone else does not make you strong. It makes you alone. When someone who has more knowledge speaks, they listen and learn. And yes, sometimes they have to go against their superiors and those in charge, but they have good reasons for it. It is not simply to point out how cool they are. It is for the greater good, or, sometimes more importantly, a personal good/conviction. In one of my favorite books Trickster’s Choice (and its sequel Trickster’s Queen), Beka Cooper, a slave and stranger in a new land, uses her intellect to work with (and enhance) the rebel forces to bring down a corrupt government. Even though Pierce’s books are aimed at a young adult audience (and I am 25 going on 26) they remain some of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. They are well written, and they have stories that ring true no matter how old you are.
As a woman, I feel it is imperative that women have access to strong female leads. In fact, a good 80% of the novels in my bookshelves feature heroines that kick ass and are not ashamed of it. But when I come across books that seem to portray a strong woman as nothing more than loner without two brain cells to rub together, I get more than a little annoyed. As a writer, I am annoyed that someone would publish something that seems so clichéd. As a woman, I am annoyed that the only strength to be found seems to be in brute and not brain. And as a reader, I am annoyed that an author would think I am so shallow and so dumb that they think this is what entertains me.
Other fantasy books (that happen to be on my book shelf right now) that feature heroines that I love, include:
Basically every Tortall series written by Tamora Pierce
A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Magic Lost, Trouble Found by Lisa Shearin
Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler
Basically the whole of Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series (even though some of them are focused on male heroes, read them anyway)
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews (as well as her On the Edge series, though I don’t think it is quite as good)
Resenting the Hero by Moira J. Moore.
There are so many others, but I am not going to scour my Kindle for them because that would take way too long.
*It should be noted that I got this book for free when browsing the free section of Kindle books at Amazon.com. I fully realize that free section is not likely to always feature masterpieces of literature, but a crime against storytelling is still a crime (or at least it should be). Oh, and if you click on the link here you can read my review on amazon.com (And I am in no way saying you should only use amazon.com to buy things, but it just happens to be where i buy my books)
**I actually like this book, but the heroine has a tendency to really get on my nerves some times.
***I really love Grave Witch, but would pay money not to ever have to read Once Bitten, ever, ever again